The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2004 October

Retirement

October 30, 2004 | 22 Comments

There’s a subtlety about getting what you want in politics. It’s just plain greedy to come right out and say you want something because YOU want it. It’s much more polite to say that God wants it. As Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon and John Kerry all said, what’s important is not that God be on our side, but that we be on God’s side.

Extra nuance is required when your politics includes killing politicians. Naturally you have ask God to kill them rather than to make the threat yourself — but, as Wizbang reports, even that approach might earn you a visit from the Secret Service if you phrase your request as bluntly as this livejournaler did:

Dear God:

Wassup? How’s it hanging? Yeah, I know it’s been a long time since we talked. This probably stems from my belief that you do not exist. Anyway, the reason why I’m calling you is because last night, President Bush said that he could feel it every time we prayed for him, and since he apparently doesn’t listen to anyone but you, Lord, I thought you might pass this along to him.

Please kil1George Bush. I hate him so much. I think he is a giant dick and I want terrible things to happen to him. I’m not really big on the specifics of how he dies, but if you could at least arrange it so that the authorities find his dead body on top of an underage black male prostitute surrounded by a mountain of cocaine and child pornography, that would really be super-awesome.

Remember that God’s a smart guy, and He’ll get it if you gently hint at what you want without explicitly mentioning killing or death. For example, if it’s John Forbes Kerry you dislike, repeatly refer to him in your prayers as “JFK.” Or, you could try the Pat Robertson approach — with a few well-chosen words, you can rout the entire federal judiciary:

Would you join with me and many others in crying out to our Lord to change the [Supreme] Court? If we fast and pray and earnestly seek God’s face, then He will hear our prayer and give us relief.

One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer, and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?

But you don’t have to suggest that they “retire” if you think that’s too obvious. You can also pray that they be allowed to “complete their full lifetime terms.”

Lame Contest-O-Matic

October 29, 2004 | 50 Comments

The Belief-O-Matic online quiz at Beliefnet tells you “what religion (if any) you practice . . . or ought to consider practicing.” The results come in the form of a ranked list of twenty-seven different religions or belief systems, displaying your percentage compatibility with each.

I supplied all of the correct answers, recorded my results, and will publish them on Monday at around 9:00 p.m. Since nobody correctly answered (or necessarily understood) last week’s contest, I’m rolling the Blogshares prize money into this game instead. To enter, just provide in the comments the first, sixth, thirteenth, twenty-second and twenty-seventh answers from your list followed by the corresponding percentages (e.g., Satanism 100%, Discordianism 79%, Methodism 45%, Lutheranism 31%, Zoroastrianism 15%). Deadline Sunday 11 p.m. (don’t forget to change your clocks!).

Despite Flu Vaccine Shortage, Vermont Alone in Discouraging Restaurant Glass-Sharing

October 28, 2004 | 13 Comments

Burlington, Vermont, October 28, 2004
The Raving Atheist

Despite a national flu vaccine shortage, only one state health official has urged restaurants to abstain from the practice of making customers drink from the same unwashed glass. In a letter to 130 eating establishments, Vermont Commissioner of Health Kenneth Angell noted the danger of contagion and suggested that diners be issued separate glasses for the next six months.

New York health officials said they are leaving such decisions up to the restaurateurs and their patrons. “There are no plans to do anything at this time, regarding what the Commissioner in Vermont did,” said New York health commissioner Frank DeRosa. Health Department spokesman Joseph Zwilling said last year a letter was sent to all restaurants reminding them of “common-sense things they could do and option available to them,” such as having employees wash their hands before serving food and reminding customers that they are not required to drink from the same glass.

He said he expected a similar letter to be sent to restaurants this year “simply as a reminder.”

Loaves and Fishes

October 27, 2004 | 18 Comments

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has reached the shocking conclusion that John Kerry is a non-believer who is merely using faith for political purposes. But it’s clear that Jacoby’s true objection is to the candidate’s reading of scripture rather than his religious sincerity:

[T]here is something wrong, it seems to me, with Kerry’s glib equation of higher public spending and more lavish government programs with fulfilling one’s religious obligations. He cited Matthew 25:40 — “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me” — and interpreted it to mean that “the ethical test of a good society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.” That would be a reasonable understanding if Kerry had meant that each of us individually is called upon to reach out to those in need.

But Kerry instead turned Jesus’ admonition into little more than a call for expanding the welfare state and increasing government regulation. “That’s why we have to raise the minimum wage, ensure equal pay, and finish the job of welfare reform,” he said. He quoted an earlier verse in Matthew (“I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me a drink”) and read it to mean that America must “take action now to cut the cost of energy so that already overburdened seniors in the colder parts of our country can afford heat in the winter.”

I’m not an expert on Christian thought, but it seems unlikely to me that Jesus was taking a position on minimum wage laws or energy conservation when he called on his followers to do more for “the least of these.” When James said that faith without works is dead, he wasn’t urging politicians to spend taxpayers’ money. Jesus and James were insisting that the true measure of a man’s compassion lies in how much he gives of himself — how deeply he reaches into his own pocket, how generously he gives of his own time, to help the troubled and the weak.

* * *

[P]romiscuous God-talk in presidential campaigns doesn’t elevate our spiritual profile. It feeds the suspicion that religion is being invoked for cynical political reasons. Is Kerry right with his God? I certainly hope so. But for nearly 22 years he managed to keep that part of his life extremely private. I wish he would have kept it that way.

So Jesus favors some sort of anarcho-libertarian-capitalist utopia in which the moral law is privately and voluntarily observed, and all social welfare (and energy policy) is dependent on the goodwill of strangers. This sounds at least as cynical and political as Kerry’s position. (I don’t see how there would be any “taxpayers’ money,” since all taxes theoretically go to some public as opposed to private good). And wasn’t it hypocritical for Jacoby to even express his opinion on the matter — aren’t we supposed to keep our scriptural interpretations “extremely private” in this presidential campaign?

{Via Prestopundit]

Smarty Pants

October 26, 2004 | 33 Comments

Atheists are always accused of trying to prove that they’re smarter than everyone else. If you search Google on the word “atheists,” together with permutations of words like “smarter,” “so smart” or “more intelligent,” you’ll find plenty of examples of this. The point of the accusation, of course, is that atheists aren’t really smarter, but, in fact, are stupider for thinking that they’re so smart.

What I find telling is that one rarely finds the accusation launched in the opposite direction. No one accuses ever Christians or other religionists of thinking they’re so much more intelligent than everyone else. Nobody says “oh, those Catholics think they’re so clever with that salvation-through-resurrection story” or “those Hindus think they’re so logical with those 31 million animal-headed gods” or “those fundamentalists are always showing off with their six-day creation proof.”

Why is this? I guess I’m just not smart enough to figure it out.

He’s All yours

October 25, 2004 | 25 Comments

Subj: anybody home
Date: 10/25/2004 12:14:35 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: mauibuddy@yahoo.com
To: ravingatheist@ravingatheist.com

Just wonder if this is a robot site or someone is actually there. The multitude of verbage indicates living creatures of one kind or the other. And. Assuming living person(s) I have a question. Are you do-gooder(s), prankster(s) or do you feel you are performing some worthwhile public service? For free? Where do I send the money?

Subj: Re: anybody home
Date: 10/25/2004 12:15:48 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Raving Atheist
To: mauibuddy@yahoo.com

The object of the site is to spread truth throughout the universe. No money required.

Subj: Re: anybody home
Date: 10/25/2004 6:21:23 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: mauibuddy@yahoo.com
To: RavingAtheist@aol.com

Thanks for your reply. I notice that there are a lot of web sites with no other purpose than to find out if anyone is interested in a particular subject. E-mailing is still an infant art to me even though I made a career in computers beginning with project Apollo. So I though I would try to just “raise” someone first before trying to communicate.

I am an Archaeologist and I have located the body of Jesus, Moses,, many other Biblical figures. I am finding it difficult to locate anyone who wants to hear that.

They don’t want to hear that the Holy Bible is a hoax either. My find proves that it is. This should make headline news but no one wants to hear that. There is a lot of bucks on the line to the contrary as well as political and other fortunes. Where will this leave the Evangelical set?

The Bible is a literary hoax and like most hoaxes in that class it was done by taking a true story and “working” on it. A lot. I have unraveled their work and have the original story. The hoax can be described with many metaphors, a lulu, massive mistake, and so on.

I have documented my work on video. To do a detailed accounting takes the better part of 10 hours. With a lot of effort it has been reduced to 2 films 2 hours each that are suitable for general consumption, get the job done, prove the point(s). Filming is just now complete and the next step is review along with verification of my Archaeological finds.

Got any ideas?

Subj: Re: anybody home
Date: 10/25/2004 6:54:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Raving Atheist
To: mauibuddy@yahoo.com

If you give me your permission, I will post our e-mail correspondence on my site, together with your e-mail address so that anyone who is interested in your presentation can contact you.

Subj: Re: anybody home
Date: 10/25/2004 9:01:53 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: mauibuddy@yahoo.com
To: RavingAtheist@aol.com

Permission to post our correspondence granted. Thank you.

God Squad Review CVI (Interfaith Childrearing)

October 25, 2004 | 10 Comments

A Jewish woman who’s dating a Catholic man asks the Squad whether she should break up with him because of differences over the religious upbringing of any children they might have. He wants to celebrate the traditions of both faiths without indoctrinating them either way, leaving the decision to the kids once they’re old enough to decide for themselves. She agreed at first, as neither of them is very religious and they only attend their respective services on the big holidays. However, after thinking about it she now “can’t imagine not being able to have a bris or bar or bat mitzvah” for the children, and is “also nervous that when they’re older, they might choose to be Catholic.”

The Squad declares that the children should be raised in the faith of whichever partner ranks religion as most important, and break up if it’s a tie. But letting the kids figure it out for themselves is a big no-no:

We consider his suggestion that you raise your kids as both Jewish and Catholic, or as nothing until they’re old enough to choose to be spiritual, a parenting cop- out. You wouldn’t let your kids decide on their own bedtime, so why make them decide about their own religion? Parents have a simple and inescapable obligation to teach their children their street address — and their religious address.

In other words, the decision is so important that it can’t be left to a mind old enough to consider it seriously. Make the wrong decision and you are guaranteed to go to Hell — just like one of your parents most certainly is . You know, the parent who chooses to stay up until 4:00 am every morning. I mean, the parent who goes to bed at 9 p.m. Well, whatever you do, don’t alternate your kid’s bedtime between 4:00 a.m. and 9 p.m. Do you really want your child deciding on his own bedtime when he’s old enough to make the choice? Or, put another way:

You have an obligation to give your children the religious roots that nurtured and shaped both you and your boyfriend. Though conversion is always possible, a person has the right to emerge from childhood able to walk into a church or a synagogue and feel at home in one or the other place.

Or, feel at home in both places if he’s given “children the religious roots that nurtured and shaped both you and your boyfriend.” But don’t forget this:

One final word about making promises about raising children in a religion that is not your own, particularly if you’re the mother who promised to raise your children in your husband’s faith: This is a bad promise, no matter who makes it, because you just can’t know how you’ll feel until you are actually faced with denying your child a baptism or a bris, a first communion or a bar mitzvah.

In other words, it’s bad to decide on the child’s religion until shortly after he’s born, or until he’s seven, or maybe thirteen. It’s important not to be too decisive about this important decision. But keep in mind:

You’re making this promise when you are not yet engaged and you’re childless. What you promise now you may not be able to emotionally or spiritually deliver. The best way out of problems is through them, not around them, and we’re proud that you’re willing to go through this dilemma now.

So, it’s good that you’re making the decision right now, as long as you make it later, and then break your promise. Just don’t let your kid decide

Simpleminded

October 23, 2004 | 41 Comments

Critics of “jock theology” frequently deride the notion of divine intervention in sporting events. These objections, however, rarely come from the perspective of atheism. For example, as I noted here, sportscaster Bob Costas once criticized some athletes’ “simplistic and self-serving view of what God is and does.” He wasn’t rejecting the notion of God, but merely arguing that He’s much more sophisticated and only involves himself in “bigger” things.

Bigger things, presumably, like a war. But MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr., commenting on Bush’s Iraq policy, apparently thinks God’s even too sophisticated for that:

Most Americans do not have that kind of simpleminded faith.

George Bush

Who’s on First?

October 22, 2004 | 47 Comments

I’ve posted a $100,000,000 reward (in Blogshares dollars) for the first person to meet the challenge posed in the last paragraph of my tangentially God-related post over at PurpleCar. Perhaps someone with a deeper background in the philosophical literature on the subject can prove me wrong. Only a reasonably exact match, accompanied by a link or verifiable academic citation, will count.

Say Cheese

October 21, 2004 | 5 Comments

Fundamentalist Christian George Bothwell doesn’t want to pose for his driver’s license picture because the Canadian Ministry of Transportation’s digital photography database is demonic. Specifically, “he believes that that biometrics — the use of physical identifiers such as fingerprints, retina scans and face recognition — are specifically cited in the book of Revelations as the work of agents of the devil.”

So far, par for the course. Nutjobs everywhere know that The Beast is behind all sorts of stuff like that, including, in America, Social Security (that’s why Bush has a secret plan to cut it). But the Canadian government’s position doesn’t make much more sense:

The Transportation Ministry allows drivers to apply for a religious exemption, but requires that the religion be held by a congregation with a leader who can vouch for its beliefs in writing.

* * *

Ministry lawyers don’t dispute that Bothwell is a sincere Christian. But they do call into question whether his objection is a religious one or based instead on his concerns about privacy issues.

“This case is about the applicant . . . wishing an ID on his own conditions,” lawyer Shaun Nakatsuru told court.

“There’s no question the applicant is sincere in his religion; the question is, is the religious objection to the photo identification sincere?”

* * *

He may truly believe that it is evil, he may call it Satanic, but it is not a religious objection.”

First, the number of people who hold a belief, or whether they belong to an organized group with a leader who knows how to write, is irrelevant to whether the belief is religious. Some of the most profoundly religious beliefs are screeched out by lone, illiterate individuals standing on street corners wearing diapers. In any event, there are plenty of large religions which maintain scriptural objections to driver’s license picture-taking, like the one subscribed to by this child-abusing piece of shit.

Second, the government shouldn’t penalize Mr. Bothwell just because his religious belief is slightly contaminated by a secular privacy concern. It’s hard to come up with beliefs completely divorced from reality, like those of the eating-Jesus-in-a-cracker variety, all the time. It’s enough that the Beast who’s running the DMV database has ten horns, seven heads, feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion.

Merging the Lines

October 20, 2004 | 82 Comments

I am both anti-abortion and anti-choice. The anti-choice part of my position, however, is what appears to offend some people the most. After all, I am assured, everyone is actually anti-abortion at heart, and no one seriously takes the cold view that the fetus is a parasite, wart or tumor. Where I’ve really gone astray, apparently, is in opposing the legalization of abortion; the dispute is one over methodology and procedure. I’m not wrong in opposing the act of abortion — what’s immoral is my support of legislation restricting the practice.

In fact — as it is always in the abortion debate — the true objection to my position has nothing to do with legal theory but rather where I draw the line as to where human life begins. My view that life begins at conception is considered irrational, or, as John Kerry would put it, an “article of faith.” Reasonable people know, of course, that life begins at six months, an assumption which is somehow not an article of faith but a scientific fact. After that magic moment virtually everyone is anti-choice – i.e., anti-legalization – except where the woman’s life or health is seriously threatened. And the legal line, like mine, is drawn to perfectly coincide with the perceived moral one.

Which requires me, again, to present some cold, hard facts. Any human life, at any stage after conception, at any stage after birth, can be snuffed out quickly and painlessly. You are delusional if you think that it’s substantially more difficult to kill a one week old fetus than a six month old one. You are delusional if you think that the quality of the sentience of a one-week-old embryo, a six-month-old fetus, a sleeping infant, or you when unconscious, are substantially different. Anything can be killed while in that state and never know the difference; all that is lost is the potential. The Earth may be swallowed tomorrow by a black hole and nothing will have mattered, least of all how humans differed over whether the moral and legal lines for abortion should be separated or merged. I agree that in that sense the abortion of a fetus does not really matter — in the sense that nothing matters.

But in the sense that anything matters, all that matters is that I was not aborted — at any stage of my development. Do not pretend that your line is somehow superior to mine for any purpose, legal or moral, particularly since no one ever reaches your line until mine is first crossed. And save all your sanctimony for someone who draws the line one day closer to birth than you. Argue with them, if you can, that your anti-choice, anti-legalization line is moral in a way that theirs is not. I assure you that you will sound no different from me.

Objectively Speaking

October 19, 2004 | 15 Comments

Should atheists who promote religious scams be held to a higher standard than believers who do?

Objective: Christian Ministries is a website which, like the Landover Baptist Church, mocks evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. But whereas the humor at Landover is so transparent as to expose the satire at first glance, OCM is more subtle. It’s wild-eyed crazy-talk, to be sure, but in the context of Christianity not so exaggerated as to seem insincere. As I noted last year, the OCM has fooled quite a few bloggers — and I still get occasional e-mails from readers suggesting that I fisk the site.

Doubtlessly, OCM is run by nasty hardcore atheists. But I imagine a fair share of believers stumble upon it and are convinced that it’s the real thing. Some of them might even patronize the online store, thinking that they’re helping a worthy cause. Which, I guess, they are. Just not the one they think. They’d probably be enraged if they found out they were paying to mock themselves. Should OCM make sure a disclaimer pops up before each sale is completed?

Another problem, as reader June pointed out, is that OCM also links to various “legitimate” Christian charities — including organizations which solicit tax-deductible donations, ask for credit card numbers and invite regular monthly giving. While I have serious doubts about the sincerity of many particular religious fundraising tactics — Pat Robertson’s Principle of Reciprocity pitch comes immediately to mind — the sincerity of the charities in the underlying Jesus-belief probably gives to them enough First Amendment cover to continue fleecing the elderly, gullible and impoverished. But OCM can’t pretend to believe in any of it — could they be charged with aiding and abetting a fraud?

Tricky

October 18, 2004 | 5 Comments

The old atheist reverse-psychology scam.

Note to Austin: For the trick to work, the intended marks have to actually read your blog.

God Squad Review CV (Spelling God’s Name)

October 18, 2004 | 28 Comments

A Jewish reader is pissed at the Squad for failing to hyphenating G-d’s name. In particular, he’s worried about his Judaism teacher’s warning that you’ll desecrate God if you write out His name in full and then throw out the piece of paper. The Squad dismisses these concerns, calling the hyphenation practice something employed by observant Jews as a “comforting ritual,” a custom rather than a law. Additionally, they note:

For other religious Jews, this is not a spiritually relevant custom because writing the English word “God” is really not writing the name of God at all. God is just an English word derived from the German word “Gott,” so writing “G-d” bears no relationship to the actual YHWH name of God. Also, what sense does it make to write “G-d” but then say the name “God” in regular conversation? Some Orthodox Jews fix this problem by also never speaking the name “God,” even in English. Instead, they say, “Ha-Shem,” which means, “The Name.”

The important point of all this is to always respect God in word and deed. As for us, we remain The God Squad because we hope we’ve learned this lesson and also because “The G-d Squad” just doesn’t rhyme!

This really doesn’t address why the Orthodox Jews are wrong. Getting the words just right seems to count for a lot in most religions. Saying the wrong words at a baptism, or during last rites, can mean the difference between Heaven and Hell. And I wonder if The Secularist Critique would be as angry at the Squad’s refusal to hyphenate as he was at the godless when he wrote this post:

Why do many web atheists refuse to use the upper case ‘G’ when spelling God? Isn’t it grammatically incorrect to use lower case when spelling the word God? One has to wonder what the big deal is, what would motivate a person to go out of his/her way to go against grammatical convention when it comes to the ‘God’ word? Don’t they know that the upper and lower case ‘g’ carries no implications as to your position on the existence of the being the word refers to? Are atheists so insecure that they fear other atheists might think them weak for capitalizing a word? Or perhaps it is meant as a petty insult, but to whom, God? God is not supposed to exist so maybe to religious people? This would make more sense, but it indicates that there is much more going on here then simple neutral and objective reason. Most non-religious people have no urge to break grammatical convention. These people do not simply disbelieve in God, they hate religion so desperately as to resort to pathetically juvenile tactics like refusing an upper case ‘g’ when referring to God. These kinds of atheists would make a fascinating psychological study.

Candidates Differ on How to Best Degrade God’s Lesbian Children

October 15, 2004 | 21 Comments

Tempe, Arizona, October 15, 2004
Special to The Raving Atheist

While agreeing that lesbians should be denied the right to marry, the two presidential candidates differ on how best to demean the second-class, gay female children of God.

President George W. Bush and democratic hopeful John Kerry concur that marriage is sacred covenant between a man and woman meant for the purpose of procreation. Bush, however, believes that the states should uniformly be prohibited from recognizing lesbian marriages through a federal constitutional amendment. Kerry believes that the discrimination should be enforced on a state-by-state basis, through Jim Crow-like measures enacted by hateful, angry majorities in fractious, violent elections.

The difference in the candidate’s methodology has its roots in their views on how God made lesbians, a topic raised in Wednesday night’s debate. Bush contends that because we “don’t know” whether homosexuals were given a choice as to their sexual orientation, the denial of rights should occur on a nationwide basis. Kerry, on the other hand, believes that God purposefully endowed each lesbian with an inflexible sexuality, leaving the question of their happiness to be decided by popular whim.

In the course of the debate, the candidates also reached common ground on the issue of whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter is a lesbian. Once again, however, the two men diverged on how she could most effectively be humiliated. Kerry, who accused Bush of trying to divide America on the gay marriage issue, discretely reminded tens of millions of homophobic evangelicals of Miss Cheney’s lesbianism in the hope that they would react like Republican voters did during the 2000 primary upon hearing rumors that John McCain had an illegitimate black baby. Bush, after expressing his deepest respect for the way that Kerry’s unmarried daughters Vanessa and Alexandra were created to achieve orgasm by the rapid pumping of men’s penises into their vaginas, declined to comment on the matter.

Bush concluded the debate by emphasizing the sanctity of his twenty seven-year marriage to the heterosexual First Lady. Kerry, who dumped his severely depressed first wife to screw movie stars, similarly highlighted the success of his second, procreationless union to a ketchup-fortune billionairess.

Debating Faith

October 14, 2004 | 37 Comments

I had assumed that any discussion of religion by the candidates in last night’s debate would be meaningless, incoherent and pandering. Looks like I was wrong (my comments in boldface:

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, let’s go to a new question.

You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you’d checked with your dad. And I believe, I don’t remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority [Good preparation, Bob. With only weeks to prepare for the debate, and the unlimited resources of CBS, I can see how it would be almost impossible to go to CBS’ website and find the exact quote — in 60 Minutes’ interview with Bob Woodward about his book, “Plan of Attack.” Bush said “He [George Bush Sr.] is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength. There’s a higher Father that I appeal to.'”].

I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

BUSH: First, my faith plays a lot — a big part in my life. [The question was what role it plays in your policy decisions]. And that’s, when I answering that question, what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot [No, you were really saying that you consulted God about whether to invade Iraq]. And I do.

And my faith is a very — it’s very personal [Personal, except when employed to dictate public policy]. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm’s way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls.

But I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.[Religion is important to the extent that it doesn’t matter at all].

If you’re a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you’re equally an American. That’s the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit [The truth doesn’t matter one way or the other].

Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency.

I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, “Well, how do you know?” I said, “I just feel it.” [There’s also PrayForGeorgeBush.com].

But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am. [So, he wants to impose the principles of his religion, rather than his religion].

I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we’ve unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt. [Love is the exclusive property of faith-based organizations].

I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That’s what I believe.

And that’s been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. [Is it really free if you had to pray for it? And send in troops?] And I can’t tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march.

And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me, and religion is a part of me.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. I think it’s important and I share it. [I am an atheist pretending to be a Catholic]. I think that he just said that freedom is a gift from the Almighty.

Everything is a gift from the Almighty. [Everything? Thanks for the cancer!]. And as I measure the words of the Bible — and we all do [all of us?]; different people measure different things [oh, not all of us] — the Koran, the Torah, or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being [anything goes]. And people all find their ways to express it.

I was taught — I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet. [What, exactly, does loving the Lord do?].

We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. There’s one for the people who have, and there’s one for the people who don’t have. And we’re struggling with that today.

And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith. [But it doesn’t matter, as long as we express it in our own way, right?].

I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead. [Sometimes the “works” make you dead, depending on the faith].

I think we’ve got a lot more work to do. And as president, I will always respect everybody’s right to practice religion as they choose — or not to practice — because that’s part of America. [The works will still be based on my faith, though].

Bill O’Reilly Sued for Secularism

October 14, 2004 | 15 Comments

New York, New York, October 14, 2004
Special to The Raving Atheist

Despite his repeated criticisms that the practice has led to the decline of American values, Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly has been sued for secularism.

An associate producer for Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” Andrea Mackris, filed a sexual-harassment suit yesterday against host O’Reilly and the network, alleging that during telephone calls and in-person conversations, he made many lewd and sexual secularist comments over the years.

Mackris’ suit claims that during several dinners, O’Reilly talked about how he had advised another woman how to use a secularist vibrator and suggested Mackris use one, too. He allegedly related many stories of his own secularist sexual encounters on several occasions over the years.

Mackris worked as an associate producer on “The O’Reilly Factor” from April 2000 through January 2004. She left for CNN in early 2004 but returned to Fox in July after her boss at CNN was fired for aggravated secularist harassment, her suit states.

According to the complaint, O’Reilly’s calls were particularly lewd and graphic and secularist after she returned to Fox. In one conversation, O’Reilly allegedly discussed his secularist fantasies on a Caribbean vacation. When Mackris reminded O’Reilly that he was her boss, she said he responded “You just have to suspend that.”

In other discussions, which the suit called “secularist perverted ravings,” he allegedly approached Mackris and her college friend, saying, “Boy, I would’ve had fun with you two,” and told Mackris of his trysts with a pair of “really wild” secularist Scandinavian airline stewardesses and a “girl” at a secularist Thai sex show.

O’Reilly declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, in a recent Talking Points Memo on his show, he asserted that “this is really what the culture war is all about, secularists who want few judgments made about personal behavior and traditionalists who believe judgments are necessary in a disciplined society.”

Supermean

October 12, 2004 | 4 Comments

I got a great idea for a cartoon — Christopher Reeve, portraying Superman, flying out of his wheelchair and into Heaven! Oh, darn somebody already beat me to it. Actually, Jean-Paul Fastidious beat me to this topic in the comments, but since no one reads them except me I decided against aborting this post. And no, this is an abortion-free day, so I’m not going to snap at JPF’s stem cell bait just yet. So, if you will stop thinking about abortion (you lucky-to-be-alive former blastocytes), I will proceed with the round-up.

Naturally, five of the twelve cartoons (fourteen, if you count the abortion-related ones, which I don’t) depict Reeve as walking or flying out of his wheelchair. I won’t bother with those, other than to note that for some reason the cartoonist crowd was far less concerned with relieving Ray Charles of his disability in the afterlife. (How they dealt with Ethel Water’s problem we’ll never know, since the online cartoon morgue doesn’t go back to 1977). In any event, for pure sickness I think this “tribute” puts my Janet Leigh/Rodney Dangerfield composition to shame:

PriggeeCaminiti2.jpg

Where to begin? First, was Caminiti really so famous that he’d even be allowed to line up at the same gate as A-listers like Reeve? I doubt he’d even be mentioned in the same cartoon if they hadn’t died on the same day. I must say, I’ve never seen an obituary cartoon used to denigrate one decedent in favor of another. In this case, it’s a little unfair, because the first and only thing that Reeve took after falling off that horse was steroids. And he took them for the very same reason Caminiti did — to improve his performance.

Speaking of that horse, apparently Reeve gets to ride him again in Heaven. Only this time he’s got wings, so the fall is going be a bit further:

marlettehorse.gif

Bet they’ve got some catching up to do. I wonder if Roy will get to play with Montecore once he reaches the other side of the Pearly Gates.

Classy

October 12, 2004 | 4 Comments

Shortly after 9/11, Bible-thumping “View” co-hostess Star Jones announced she’d never vote for an atheist because they’re less ethical than the God-fearing. An atheist “could baby-sit my kids — possibly,” she said, but she’d prefer to have a Muslim with his “finger on the button.” Someone, accordingly to Jones, who would “feel like there are long term, everlasting ramifications.” And, she concluded, “[a]nybody got a problem with it, it’s your problem!”

Star exhibits this same classy, Christian attitude in responding to charges that she’s using the most sacred day of her life to line her pockets:

ABC has put a halt to Star (“Bride-zilla”) Jones’ greedy on-air plugging of her wedding suppliers to make sure the mentions don’t violate FCC rules.

As Jones’ Nov. 13 wedding to Al Reynolds draws nearer, Star has run afoul of her network bosses because everything connected with the wedding

God Squad Review CIV (Voting for Pro-Choice Politicians)

October 11, 2004 | 56 Comments

Just when I thought I was going to get a respite from abortion blogging, the Squad addresses the question in their column for the first time ever. A pro-Kerry reader who’s “not personally in favor of abortion” wants to know if one can vote for the Democratic candidate without becoming “unfit to call [one]self a Catholic or to attend Mass.” After a six paragraph discussion of Eucharistic cannibalism, they get to the point:

Rejection of abortion is not merely a doctrine of the Catholic Church; it is a universal moral judgment affirmed by natural law and unaided human reason that is also supported by the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is not a particularistic ritual ruling applicable only to Catholics, nor is it an attempt to impose our religious beliefs on non-Catholics. Abortion is an ethical issue, just like slavery.

They backtrack a little later on, however, noting that one reason the fetus needs to be born is to be in a position to “accept the atoning death of Christ.” However, they state that they’d never require a politician to accept the resurrection story as a prerequisite to public office.

As I’ve noted before, opposition to abortion (or any other form of killing) doesn’t make much sense in a universe where no one actually dies. So you’d think it would be much more important for the Squad to legislate the salvation aspect of their agenda, given the eternal consequences for everyone. That way, people who kill at any point after conception or birth can receive absolution and join their victims in Heaven.

That being said, the notion that life begins at conception isn’t a purely Catholic one (indeed, until 1896 the Catholic view was that it began at approximately six weeks). Unfortunately, the association of the conception line with Catholicism has permitted the entire abortion issue to be trivialized as a religious one. Sensible secular people, of course, adopt the non-trivial view that life begins at five months, three weeks, six days and nineteen days — any other view being, as Senator Kerry put it, an “article of faith” not capable of legislation.

Evolving Views

October 10, 2004 | 3 Comments

Philosopher Daniel Dennett caused a stir last year when he called for atheistic “Brights” to out themselves and demand a seat at the public table. But this Beliefnet piece by Robert Wright suggested that Dennett had recently embraced the view that evolution evidences a “higher purpose.” Andrew Sullivan naturally billed this as “An Atheist Recants,” prompting a denial by Dennett and a response by Wright. Geoff Arnold has a few thoughts on the matter (here, here and here).

Even if one accepts that laws governing evolution are uni-directional or “purposeful” in some sense, I don’t see how that increases the likelihood of a conscious God moreso than the existence of any other natural law. Gravity makes things fall together and other laws drive them apart; one can always inject the hypothesis that, no matter which direction things go, some mind has pre-determined the ultimate result. Moreover, as John Stuart Mill pointed out, an omnipotent being would have no need to employ any means to an end — particularly no means so clumsy, painful and slow as evolution — but would simply bring the desired result to fruition instantaneously. Beyond this, if we are to accept science at all, we must accept the ultimate direction and end of things it has already established: our own deaths, the tumbling of the Earth into the sun, and the heat (or cold) death of the universe.

No Respect

October 9, 2004 | 4 Comments

As I’ve pointed out before on numerous occasions, obituary cartoonists inevitably depict celebrity entertainers up in Heaven doing whatever they were best known for in life. But . . . what if, like Psycho star Janet Leigh, you were best known in life for dying a screaming death? St. Peter’s not going to let anyone through the pearly gates carrying on like that. Perhaps you just have to hope that a comedian dies within a day of you to take the edge off things . . .

psychorodneyjanet.jpg

Or maybe not. I think the one they did of Ray Charles performing for Ronald Reagan worked a little better.

Of course, I was purposely trying to be stupid with that cartoon. If I were really stupid, I’d probably use the occasion of Rodney’s death to bring him back to life as a soldier in Iraq — in order to make some kind of point about the Vice Presidential debate. Like this:

dangerfieldcole.jpg

At least Bob Hope got off easy.

Patterns

October 9, 2004 | 13 Comments

To most of you I am just patterns and sequences of symbols on a screen, like the patterns and sequences of the DNA that have defined my existence from conception.

Perhaps as you read this I am sleeping, my consciousness only potential — so all that exists of me at this moment may again be merely the patterns and sequences of my DNA.

And here I am as a fetus.

Didn’t you love me then?

Supreme Court: Life Begins at 5 Months, 3 Weeks, 6 Days and 9 Hours

October 8, 2004 | 12 Comments

Washington, D.C., October 8, 2004
Special to The Unaborted Atheist

Drawing upon a consensus of biological and neurological research, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that human life begins at five months, three weeks, six days and nineteen hours.

The 7-2 majority in Doe v Holden held hat the state lacks a cognizable interest in interfering with a woman’s constitutional right to privacy before that point, finding that no meaningful consciousness or brain function evolves until just short of six months.

“The weight of scientific evidence demonstrates that significant human capabilities such as memory do not approximate those associated with personhood until that later stage of development,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for court. “To compel a woman to assume the mental and physical burdens of caring for an unwanted child cannot be justified by reference to mere human potential.” Ginsburg added that adoption was not a viable alternative, citing the protracted nature of the process and the additional psychological stress created by the uncertainty of the child being raised by strangers.

The thirty-four page decision noted that the nation was divided by the question of when life begins. “We respectfully acknowledge the views of those who see something recognizably human in the eighteenth hour of the sixth day of the third week of the fifth month,” said Justice David Souter in a concurring opinion. “On the other hand, we have resisted the barbarity of those who would extend the right to end a life to five months, three weeks, six days and twenty hours,” he said. Souter recognized, however, that “reasonable minds might differ” on the high court’s selection of the nineteenth hour of the relevant time-frame. “We therefore decree it to be so,” he concluded.

In a dissent joined by Justice William Rehnquist, Justices Antonin Scalia criticized the majority’s “arbitrary and narrow-minded” resolution of the controversial issue. “I acknowledge that a five and half month old infant is unconscious for fifteen hours a day and lacks any significant speech or analytical abilities, and that most human beings do not retain memories, even of dreams, before their second year of life,” he wrote. “But in addition to its unique genetic structure, the potential it evinces by toe-grabbing, rolling over and gurgling should not be so callously disregarded — even if it can be quickly and painlessly extinguished by an injection of potassium chloride.”

Abortion Agnosticism

October 7, 2004 | 26 Comments

There’s popular pro-choice doctrine which I’ll call “abortion agnosticism.” It espouses a principle of neutrality — the notion that it’s fine to be against elective abortion, but that the two sides of the debate are morally equivalent. While ultimately you may choose one position over the other, the abortion agnostic says, it’s no more than that: a choice. It’s okay to feel as you do about the fetus (whatever feeling you have), but in the end nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. A common expression of this view is found on countless buttons and bumper stickers: “Against Abortion? Don’t Have One!”

According to this theory, being pro-choice doesn’t mean taking a side. It’s simply a matter of respecting differing beliefs. One of the primary purposes of the doctrine is to dispel the notion that pro-choice is somehow pro-abortion. Indeed, abortion agnostics frequently argue that even being anti-abortion is consistent with being pro-choice.

On its face, abortion agnosticism seems fair and reasonable. To each her own. But is it really tenable? Is true neutrality possible?

Let’s first consider, in rough form, the two attitudes towards which the doctrine professes neutrality. On the one hand, some people view the unborn as the equivalent of a parasite, a clump of cells, or wart. At best, it’s something to be identified in clinical terms: a blastocyte, a zygote, an embryo, or the “product of conception.” But it’s not human in any meaningful moral sense, much less in any legal sense. There’s no more reason to object to abortion than there is to get upset over the hair or nails on the floor of a beauty salon. And while abortion should be safe and certainly legal, there’s no compelling reason to make it rare — any more than there’s a moral reason to make haircuts or manicures rare. For lack of a better word, I’ll call this the “cold” position.

The second view is that the fetus has achieved some recognizable, meaningful human status. Abortion thus involves an actual moral decision, one which makes the act to some degree “sad” or “wrong,” or even “terrible” or a “tragedy.” As a form of killing, it’s a very serious decision, an option of last resort. People in this category, even if they’re pro-choice, commonly call themselves “anti-abortion” or “personally opposed.” I’ll call this the “warm” position.

At first glance I think it’s evident that no sincere adherent of either position could actually “respect” the position of the other on any serious intellectual level. In practice, they certainly do not. Those subscribing to the “cold” view invariably see the position embraced by the “warm” side as irrational, superstitious or religious. Their “respect” for a woman who declines to abort an unwanted pregnancy out of so-called “pro-life” considerations is more of a tolerant disdain. They view her much as an apathetic atheist views believers who pray or fast or otherwise engage in time-consuming rituals or acts of self-deprivation — it’s their right, yes but they simply wouldn’t bother with it all if they knew better, if they hadn’t been brainwashed into such thinking earlier in life.

Thus, while those of the cold view may believe in a general sense that a woman has the right to make up her own mind on the matter (as she does about Jesus or Ganesh or Zeus), they wouldn’t be neutral in their efforts to persuade a child or a friend that the warm view is trivial. It’s important to them that others understand that those who protest outside of abortion clinics are as silly as those who might stand outside a salon trying to dissuade women from getting a haircut. And if asked for an opinion by a woman contemplating an abortion but wavering on its morality, they would tell her that her fears were unfounded, no more valid that questioning the morality of eating a piece of chocolate.

The warm side has a corresponding disrespect for the cold view. Obviously those who are anti-choice reject it, but as is significant here, the expression of disdain is especially strong among those who consider themselves anti-abortion yet pro-choice. Indeed, even the mainstream pro-choice organizations occasionally denounce the “cold” view, insisting that every woman takes the choice seriously and understands the underlying grave moral issue its consequences. Many pro-choice women declare that they themselves would never have an abortion. The insistence that abortion be made “rare,” it is said, is motivated by something more than a mere concern over the inconvenience of a wasted afternoon in clinic.

So judgmentalism is a feature of both the warm and cold views. As to the moral issue regarding the status of the fetus, there’s really no agnosticism within each position. (I recognize that some of the “cold” turn “warm” with respect to the later stages of the pregnancy, but this doesn’t mean that they’re agnostic at any fixed point). Neither side professes to believe that the opposing attitude towards the fetus is as valid as its own. Neither side is really agnostic.

So who are the abortion agnostics? Ultimately, I think, they’re members of the cold camp posing as members of the warm. People like John Kerry, who declare a deeply-held moral belief that “life begins at conception,” but support choice on separation of church and state grounds, i.e. on the ground that a sincere anti-abortion view is in reality just a lot of religious claptrap. Or Al Sharpton, who believes that abortion is so immoral that it leads to Hell, but supports choice because, again, he sees his own opposition as founded solely upon a religion in which he doesn’t really believe.

I don’t mean to suggest that the agnostic position is always insincere, at least on the conscious level. But it strikes me in many ways as incoherent and contrived. Consider, for example, a scene in the very first episode of The West Wing. President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is introduced as a religious man who spent eight months on a private crusade trying to discourage teenage girls from having abortions. But he’s pro-choice, and when Christian anti-abortion leaders come to lobby him he demands that they “get [their] fat asses out of my White House!”

Bartlet is indeed fictional; I cannot think of any pro-choice organization that actively discourages expectant women from having abortions. NARAL and Planned Parenthood do not present both sides of the debate, including anti-abortion moral arguments, on their websites. Most people who identify themselves as pro-choice but anti-abortion would not consider engaging in sidewalk counseling outside of a clinic to attempt to persuade women of their moral views, even if assured that a certain percentage do change their minds. Again, I think the underlying assumption is that a woman who decides against the procedure as a result of such persuasion has been brainwashed or intimidated into accepting irrational beliefs — whereas one who goes ahead with abortion after being “reassured” with contrary arguments is acting of her own free will.

To the Death

October 6, 2004 | 23 Comments

Estes Park Town Trustee David Habecker is refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at board meetings until Congress removes “under God” from it. This stand has earned him the utmost respect and support from his colleagues and fellow Coloradans, who also want him to get the fuck out.

Trustee Lori Jeffrey-Clark, for example, declared she would commit the ultimate sacrifice on his behalf. “I will defend you to the death for your right to say and do what you please,” she said. It’s not as strong as defense it might seem, however; she agrees with her husband, who said that Habecker “does not deserve the right to sit on this board and I am sorry that he represents the people of our town, our country, and it just makes me sick.” She’s particularly offended that he failed to “lay it out on the table” before he was elected, although the board didn’t even institute the pledge until this Spring.

Townie John Cordsen also values Habecker’s freedom more than his own life. “I will defend [his] right to my last breath,” Cordsen wrote in this op-ed. But by remaining seated during the Pledge, Cordsen opines, Habecker “crosses the line.” In fact, he finds Habecker’s inaction unconstitutional:

A core argument made by Mr. Habecker is the separation of church and state as covered by the First Amendment. Most people can recite in part the first phrase of this amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) and point to it as the basis for eliminating any reference to God in government. But many forget the second phrase (“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”). The rest of the Amendment reads: “or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

By remaining seated, Mr. Habecker has drawn attention to his protest, and is exercising his right to protest, but at the same time he has disrespected those he serves with.

Or semi-constitutional. Or disrepectitutional. Anyway, there’s a petition out to recall Habecker. Andy of World Wide Rant has sent Mrs. Jeffrey-Clark an e-mail which ends “Have a wonderful day, and I look forward to your response,” because he, too, respects her to death.

(Pictures of the characters involved here).

Crackers

October 4, 2004 | 21 Comments

Here’s a partial transcript from anti-secularist Bill O’Reilly’s interview of atheist Sam Harris, with the highlight in boldface. A couple of my quick impressions follow.

O’Reilly: We have always had on this earth crazy extremists in every religion. You know, even in . . . I’m a Roman Catholic, and you had the Inquisition. And we’ve always had it. In the Third Reich, you had regular German people signing off on slaughtering Jews. I mean, we’ve always had this. How do you deal with it, and I don’t know . . . see, I don’t necessarily agree that most people who are Muslim agree with blowing up children. I don’t think they do. Am I wrong?

Harris: That’s not precisely the claim I’m making. The problem is we frankly don’t know what percentage of the Muslim world is in support of the worldview of Osama bin Laden. There’s been some polling data on this, on the specific question of suicide bombing, and quite frankly the results are not encouraging. But the question you ask which is a very good one. The issue really is unjustified belief. We’re paying a terrible price for allowing people to be motivated by beliefs that — because they’re religious beliefs — it’s taboo to criticize them.

O’Reilly: I got it, I got it. I understand that you’re not going to get potlicians to say, look, we’re fighting Islam. They’re never going to say that. But I’d don’t think I’d say it either, for two reasons. Number one, I don’t’ know what good it does, other than to tee off Muslims around the world who may not be violent and make them hate us more. And number two, I look at countries like the United Arab Emirates, for example. Moderate country, helps America, no problems there. And I can’t say that Islam is bad across the board.

Harris: To say that we’re at war with Islam is quite distinct from saying were at war with all Muslims. But we have to realize, we have a choice between conversation or war, where we either have to win a war of ideas with the Muslim world, or we’re going to fight some very terrible wars in the future. And we are not prosecuting this war of ideas.

O’Reilly: Nobody could deny that this war is being generated by Muslim fanatics. I call them Islamofacists. No one can deny it.

Harris: Actually people do deny it, though, Bill.

O’Reilly: Nobody we take seriously. Nobody who is clear-thinking . . . nobody we take seriously. So that’s the fact. But, you’re not going to persuade those people because by their very nature, they’re nuts. They’re crazy.

Harris: They’re actually not crazy. That’s one of the things I’m disputing.

O’Reilly: Aww . . . anybody who would kill themselves and think they’re going to get 72 virgins, I gotta say, is insane.

Harris: It’s actually not crazier, though, than believing that a cracker literally turns into the body of Jesus. It has terrible behavioral outcomes, but it is equally unsupported by evidence.

O’Reilly: No, but . . . no, no, no . . . I have to challenge you there. A cracker that people believe is the embodiment of Jesus hurts no one, it’s a matter of faith, and it is a positive thing for those who believe it in the sense that they try to love their neighbor as themselves.

Harris: Great, it has different behavioral consequences.

O’Reilly: These people going out killing babies, alright, and thinking they’re going to get rewarded for killing the baby with 72 virgins. There’s a big difference in that kind of faith.

Harris: There’s a very big difference in the outcome. What I’m disputing in my book is that there’s no difference at the level of rationality. And we really have to get to the core issue here, because our situation is much more sinister than I think you’re letting on in this moment. It is possible to get a scientific education, to really be so well-educated that you can build a nuclear bomb, and yet it’s still possible to believe you’re going to get 72 virgins in the afterlife because we never explicitly criticize these kind of beliefs in our culture.

O’Reilly: Yeah, but I don’t know if criticizing those beliefs in our culture is going to make those fanatics change one iota, it’s probably going to make them hate us more.

I score this as a decisive win by Harris. I had figured that O’Reilly would take the “religion-hijacked-by-extremists” dodge — for, as we all know, all true religion is good. But look how quickly that argument falls to pieces. His first example is the Inquisition — but the Inquisition wasn’t just a group of outside, fringe extremists but a permanent institution in the Catholic Church charged with the eradication of heresies . Nor were the “regular German people” extremists

O’My

October 4, 2004 | 4 Comments

Don’t miss what’s sure to be a battle of the titans tonight (at 8 and 11 EST) on the Fox News Channel. Atheist Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, will be squaring off against Bill O’Reilly on The Factor. Although from the TV promos the topics are obstensibly whether “the Q’uran [is] a handbook for terrorism” and whether we are “really at war with Islam,” recall that Harris’ central thesis is that faith itself is the problem — and O’Reilly, of course, is an avowed anti-secularist and a shill for organized religion.

God Squad Review CIII (Problems of Evil/Religious Stamps)

October 4, 2004 | 87 Comments

The Squad confronts The Problem of Evil, in response to a reader who wants to know “what Jewish theologians believe to be the meaning for innocent human suffering, or rather the reasons as it relates to the individual soul who is suffering.” Their answer is as tangled as the reader’s syntax:

The question of why bad things happen to good people will not go away with a few well-chosen words. It’s a mystery that defines us and our ideas about God’s providence but will remain a question forever.

Some of the responses to this mystery include: Evil is the result of the foolish or destructive choices we make by using our own free will.

When we do drugs, steal to appease our greed, let brutal dictators come to power or eat too many Ding Dongs and get fat, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. The New Testament teaches that the wages of sin are death, but those wages also include clothes that don’t fit anymore.

Note that the reader specified innocent human suffering, and the Squad seemed to understand this at first, referring to bad things happening to good people. But then they only discuss why bad things happen to greedy, sinful, drug-abusing dictator-electing Ding-Dong-eating bad people. Obviously, this wasn’t even remotely the “mystery” that the question posed; we know why a God might punish them.

In any event, the Squad seems to understand that there’s a whole category of bad things that we really can’t be blamed for, the so-called “natural evils” including hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires. Why does God permit the the suffering brought about by those forces?

Obviously, such natural “evil” is not the result of our bad choices and may not necessarily be evil. A hurricane that does not strike land is identical to one that does. One is not evil and the other good. The one that hits land and causes destruction and death does so because people have chosen to live in the natural path of hurricanes.

Natural evil is just the power of nature — not the evil power of nature.

So, despite appearances, those things aren’t really bad, and once again it’s our fault — for being in the way. But, aren’t there at least some situations, say, a meteor flattening an elementary school, in which something actually bad happens to someone blameless? Or perhaps cancer? Well, predictably they note that “[s]ome deadly illnesses are brought on us by our own bad health choices.” But they do finally acknowledge that there are “other fatal or debilitating conditions [which] are the result of being dealt a few bad genetic cards.” So what about those?

Other theological explanations for evil include the idea that evil is a test given by God to see if we can preserve our faith, our values, our hope and our love even when things are not going well.

The Book of Job raises this theory to literary perfection.

But . . . isn’t sometimes the test too hard and too quick, like when the meteor hits the school or the disease is fatal? They sum things up thusly:

The most important lesson to learn is that evil involves a choice.

* * *

A second reader complains that the U.S. Post Office has issued 35 Christmas stamps since it started doing so in 1962, but only two Hanukkah stamps. The Squad finds this sort of scorekeeping “spiritually corrosive” and declares:

Our job is to delight in the religious life of all compassionate people, not to keep track of how many times “The Dreidel Song” has been played as compared with Handel’s “Messiah.”

(By the way, if you were to keep score, there are 2 billion Christians in the world — one of every three people on earth — and less than 14 million Jews. So 35 Madonna stamps versus two Hanukkah stamps is about the right ratio — if we were keeping score, which we are not.)

The point to remember as you lick your stamps and your wounds is that we were put here to delight in one another, not to envy one another.

Actually, if they were keeping score it would be 35 Madonnas and one quarter of a Hanukkah stamp, or 142 Madonnas and one Hannukah. There’d also be somewhere between 17 and 71 Allah stamps, and a like number of atheist ones. But the problem is really that the government is behind the stamps, and that it’s promoting religion at all. And the problem gets worse when it comes to public holidays and faith-based handouts. People do tend to get envious when you’re picking their pockets for someone else’s God, and they do keep score.

CBS Backs Authenticity of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s Resurrection

October 2, 2004 | 9 Comments

New York, New York, October 2, 2004
Special to The Raving Atheist

In a move calculated to salvage a reputation battered by a forgery scandal, CBS will air an exclusive report on its season premiere of 60 Minutes this Wednesday revealing that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s father rose from the dead to save his son from a fiery sports car crash.

Earnhardt’s father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was killed in a wreck on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace, Earnhardt Jr. said it was his father who helped him escape from the burning car in July.

Segment producer Mary Mapes said she was certain that CBS had “nailed this one down.” She distinguished the report from the one involving the forged National Guard memos, in which CBS erroneously claimed that it had witnesses who saw Colonel Killian, now deceased, type the memos. “Dale Jr. is a direct eyewitness to his rescue by a dead man — his testimony is unimpeachable.”

Mapes said she corroborated Dale Jr.’s testimony by consulting Marcel Matley, an expert in spiritual handwriting and fingerprints. “The absence of any prints on the wreckage is consistent with the presence of a ghost,” he said. Although Matley verified Killian’s signature on the National Guard memos and determined from the writing that the Colonel typed them under stress, he could not confirm that the source of the stress was Col. Walter Staudt and the printed text of the documents turned out to be computer-generated.

CBS also consulted psychic medium John Edward, who sensed a connection with the number three. The number of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s car was three. However, some experts, including forensic pathologists Henry Lee and Michael Baden, have disputed whether corpses can come back to life.

60 Minutes plans to follow up on the story with an interview with Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre, whose father also rose from the dead to watch his son play football.

[link via Kemibe]

Pretentions

October 2, 2004 | 51 Comments

All pretensions to theological knowledge should now be seen from the perspective of a man who was just beginning his day on the one hundredth floor of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, only to find his meandering thoughts — of family and friends, of errands run and unrun, of coffee in need of sweetener — inexplicably usurped by a choice of terrible starkness and simplicity: between being burned alive by jet fuel or leaping one thousand feet to the concrete below.

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

Drafting the Draft

October 1, 2004 | 38 Comments

Although the reinstatement of the draft appears to be but another CBS hoax, one never knows. In any event, one irksome feature of the government’s traditional selection process has been the exemptions. For example, this site suggests that a pass is commonly given to “practicing religious ministers” and “full-time students working toward becoming ordained ministers in a recognized religion.”

I’m not familiar with the proposed (but apparently dormant) draft legislation or whether it phrases the preference in this way. But I doubt it. During the Vietnam war, under section 6 (j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, Congress granted a combat exemption to anyone who “by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.” The statute further defined “religious training and belief” as “an individual’s belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation . . . [not including] essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.” The Supreme Court interpreted this language quite broadly:

We have concluded that Congress, in using the expression “Supreme Being” rather than the designation “God,” was merely clarifying the meaning of religious training and belief so as to embrace all religions and to exclude essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views. We believe that under this construction, the test of belief “in a relation to a Supreme Being” is whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God of one who clearly qualifies for the exemption. Where such beliefs have parallel positions in the lives of their respective holders we cannot say that one is “in a relation to a Supreme Being” and the other is not.

United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965). The court later expanded the scope of the exemption to cover a conscientious objector who expressly characterized his views as “non-religious,” finding that a deeply-held moral belief would qualify if held “with the strength of more traditional religious convictions” (Welsh v United States, 398 U.S. 333 [1970]). In other words, despite the language of the statute, even “political, sociological and philosophical views” not rooted in God-talk qualify if you really, really believe in them.

The logic is ridiculous, of course — particularly the distinction between “God and a “Supreme Being” — but the point is that there will likely never be a draft exemption based on the objector’s bare status as a minister or a person’s adherence to a “recognized religion.” Only those members of the clergy who oppose all wars will escape, and a deeply-held opposition to all wars will suffice even if it is not based upon religion at all. Congress could, nevertheless, draft a narrower exemption clarifying that only “real” religions qualify. Whether this would run afoul of the First Amendment, however, is a separate question.

Similarly, whether Congress could allow particularized religious objections to the current conflict is problematic. I can see objections to the conscription of Muslims being raised by the Government as well as by potential Allah-worshipping draftees. But discriminating between religious sects is generally harder to get away with than discriminating between religion and non-religion.

[link via gmanedit]

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